MOMA acquires Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner video Moby Dick

ISRAELI NEW MEDIA

This year Israeli artist’s Guy Ben-Ner’s Moby Dick (2000) has been acquired by MOMA. Ben-Ner was born in 1969 and is resident in New York and Berlin. He represented Israel in Venice Biennale 2005.

His art, resonant with socio-political allusion, is deep but far from bleak. His comic soap-opera style videos retell stories appropriated from other cultures and feature his family and household objects in a gloriously amusing, jerky slap-stick style.

Guy Ben-Ner, Moby Dick, video still, 2000

Guy Ben-Ner, Moby Dick, video still, 2000

In New York Magazine, Jeremy Salz described why Ben-Ner’s work is so different

All art comes from other art, and all immigrants come from other places. What makes Ben-Ner’s art stand out is that he puts these ideas together so well, continually cannibalizing the culture and objects he encounters, trying to make these things work for his art and his family. In this way, he echoes the immigrant’s story and the artist’s quest.1

Link to part of Ben-Ner Moby Dick video on youtube

Ben-Ner’s Moby Dick is a sly, improvisational retelling of Herman Melville’s novel in the form of a short, silent video punctuated with intertitles and magic-trick asides.

Turning the kitchen of his family home into an impromptu set, Ben-Ner and his young daughter reenact the novel from the time Ishmael (Ben-Ner) arrives at the Spouter Inn until the denouement of the story, when Captain Ahab (also played by Ben-Ner) meets his demise at sea. His daughter Elia plays the landlord of the Spouter Inn and later Pip, the deck boy of the whaling ship Pequod.

Ben-Ner’s rendition of Moby Dick is reminiscent of early silent cinema’s melodrama and slapstick comedy routines. The props that turn the kitchen into a theatrical set are entirely homemade and are wildly inventive. Cabinets and sink first stand in as the bar at the Spouter Inn, then with a wooden mast added they become the Pequod floating atop the sea (the kitchen floor). Simple cinematic illusions using magic tricks, animation, and sight gags abound, making reference to the comedic ploys of Buster Keaton and the magical trickery of Georges Méliès. The playful antics of father and daughter are fun to watch, but the work is not simply a parody. It is, rather, an investigation of creativity and innocence, the father/child relationship, and the home as a site for wayward adult and adolescent fantasies.2

note 1: Review of Guy Ben-Ner video in ‘Stealing Beauty’ New York magazine by Jeremy  Saltz

note 2: The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art , p. 191

note 3: Details of the Guy Ben-Ner’s Moby Dick in MOMA collection

note 4: Gallery show 2006 press release lists other videos

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